Realm of Darkness– A Powerful Novel

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Paul Doherty continues his fascinating series of novels about  Hugh Corbett, the right hand man of the King Edwards in 13th and 14th centuries, a series that has now involved 22+ volumes with more promised.   Doherty is a middle school headmaster at a Catholic school outside of London, and a real expert in medieval English history.  Unlike the Dan Brown’s of this world whose novels are peppered with historical errors, Doherty knows his subject matter thoroughly and knows how to weave fact and fictional characters together.   One of the great lessons one can gain from reading these novels is to see just what a mess is created when one tries to do politics and religion together under one banner.  You end up with Christian warrior Knights Templars, and conscience compromised clerks like Hugh Corbett.  Here is Amazon’s summary of the plot….

“Spring, 1312. Edward II of England is absorbed with his favourite, Peter Gaveston, while his young wife, Isabella, is with child. Isabella’s father, the ruthless Philip of France, dreams of a grandson wearing the Crown of the Confessor and starts to meddle – even if that means murder…
Amaury de Craon, Philip’s Master of Secrets, is despatched to carry out his deadly deeds and Edward II summons Sir Hugh Corbett, Keeper of the Secret Seal, to intercept. Both master spies lodge at the Benedictine abbey of St Michael’s in the forest of Ashdown. Supposedly a house of prayer, the abbey holds sinister secrets and treasures which include the world’s most exquisite diamond, The Glory of Heaven. However, shortly after their arrival, the diamond is stolen and its guardian murdered. Other macabre incidents follow, Satan is seen walking through God’s Acre and a nearby tavern is burnt to the ground and no one escapes. Corbett, assisted by his henchmen, prepares to navigate this hazardous maze of murder…”

This particular novel deals with a lot of the different problems that plagued the medieval church as well as the government in the 14th century. These include the highly contagious plague, the inappropriate, which is to say immoral relationships that existed within the royalty in both England and France,  the inability of the church to reel in the incredible lust for power and territory exhibited by both countries, and the skirmishes that eventually led to the horrible 100 years war.  If you conclude that if these people are Christians at all, they are Christians behaving very badly, you would be right, and stuck in the middle of all that court intrigue and plotting and sparring is Hugh Corbett, who is indeed a man who believes in truth including the Gospel truth. He knows that his job of administering justice requires first ferreting out and exposing the truth behind murder, mayhem, lies, and much more.

So this novel like so many in the series involves the solving of some real puzzles to get to the bottom of things, all the while Corbett is trusting ‘the truth will out’.   I especially like this series because it does not try to gild the lilly, by which I mean turn sinners into perfect saints.  Even Hugh Corbett has his flaws and sins along the way.  The story-telling is excellent, producing a real page turner for more than 350 pages, and the characters are well sketched out and seem believable. It is a reminder that ‘all power corrupts, and ultimate power corrupts ultimately’.   Just because a monk can wear a robe, and perform the sacraments without an error, and feed the hungry does not mean they are not among those helping to cause there to be a realm of darkness. Just because the mouse is in the cookie jar, it doesn’t make him a cookie. Just because a monk is in a monastery it doesn’t make him a good, never mind a godly persons.

If you love mysteries, and histories, then this is a novel for you.

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